By Phil Corso
A proposed “green fee” from the MTA has one northeast Queens lawmaker worried about the green in his constituents’ wallets.
In an effort to limit the amount of MetroCards being printed and distributed, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority made room in its 2013 budget to implement an additional $1 surcharge for riders purchasing new cards.
The surcharge, the MTA said, would hopefully encourage riders to refill and reuse their current cards instead.
But according to state Assemblyman Ed Braunstein (D-Bayside), the option simply is not there for riders in the area he represents, like Douglaston, Little Neck, Bayside and Auburndale. Braunstein said without knowing it, regular northeast Queens riders could end up paying up to an additional $50 a year for the same commutes.
“Unlike MetroCard vending machines, Long Island Rail Road vending machines are incapable of refilling previously purchased cards,” Braunstein said. “The MTA justifies this surcharge by arguing that recycling MetroCards is good for the environment. Therefore, the MTA plan to promote refilling MetroCards by adding a $1 surcharge for new cards serves no purpose at these machines and is unfair to commuters in the outer boroughs.”
The MTA board initially introduced the surcharge in 2010 but never announced a date when it would officially take effect. An MTA spokesman said the change should become official on or around March 1 in tandem with a fare increase.
“We held public hearings on the fare increases in 2010,” the spokesman said. “It was never implemented, although now it looks like it can be.”
The MTA prints roughly 160 million MetroCards each year, costing the agency $9.5 million, a spokesman said. According to the MTA’s 2013 budget, the fee should bring in an estimated $20 million a year, with $18 million of it in new revenues and $2 million saved from printing fewer cards.
Braunstein wrote a letter to New York City Transit President Thomas Prendergast last year when the additional charge was announced, urging the MTA to reconsider its plans for the sake of riders in the outer boroughs without subway stations.
In his response, Prendergast said riders could purchase cards at off-site vendors or buy commuter-railroad combo cards to avoid the $1 surcharge. An MTA spokesman said riders could avoid the fees by either buying cards at subway stations or at out-of-market vendors such as convenience stores.
“Many of my constituents purchase their new MetroCards at the vending machines at LIRR stations because they are the only available outlets,” Braunstein said. “After I reached out to the MTA and informed them of this problem, the agency still refused to reconsider the proposed surcharge.”
Braunstein has also been one of several Queens lawmakers to applaud the MTA for restoring some of its service in the borough, including the Q79 bus.
But reviving old routes that were removed in 2010 still did not explain implementing new fees that not all riders could easily avoid, Braunstein said.
“While I am grateful that the MTA recently restored previously eliminated bus service, it still does not justify this surcharge, which disproportionately impacts commuters in northeast Queens,” Braunstein said. “I once again call on the MTA to reconsider this unjustified fare increase.”
Reach reporter Phil Corso by e-mail at [email protected] or by phone at 718-260-4573.